For Murugammal, a fisherwoman in Puducherry, Covid 19 deprived her of her livelihood and gave her an additional worry of protecting against the virus. Prior to the pandemic, while her husband, Jayachandar, caught fish, she sold it in the market. Managing to survive with difficulties, they also faced a challenge of having twin sons, both of whom have an Intellectual Disability. Nandhivarman & Sargunavarman, joined SO Bharat in 2016 and have participated in Athletics and Badminton
Early during the pandemic, she often wept as she felt helpless foreseeing their survival at the brink and also seeing her sons feeling low due to inactivity. Initially, they somehow managed to consume one meal in a day, but that too started to show signs of waning. While the boys had nowhere to go to play, nothing to do, the parents feared an impending starvation. The situation came to light when the staff of SO Bharat Puducherry contacted the family to take a weekly update, as a regular practise.
The Government of Puducherry had set up a Covid War Room, and a COVID helpline was set up by the Satya Special School for any PWD (Persons with Disability) to call & share their needs. Any sector that required assistance to fight Covid 19 in any manner, reached out to the Satya Covid helpline. Ms Chitra Shah, Founder of Satya Special School and the Area Director of SO Bharat- Puducherry, initiated a support program of assembling and distributing ‘survival kits’. Since March 2020, 600 families have been provided with the kits. The kits reached Murugammal’s family as well. However, she was uncomfortable to receive ‘charity’ and offered her services, to justify the kit.
Early into the lockdown last year, after taking all the official approvals, Ms Chitra started an agri-based venture, which involved solar -drying of organic vegetables. Satya Special School arranged to run their buses which would pick & drop the PWDs from their homes to the skill training center at Auroville. The skill training was provided in partnership with Gratitude Farms – an organic farming company
This translated into extending an opportunity for developing a skill and to earn, for Nandhivarman & Sargunavarman. They have been involved in this venture since January 2021 and have been learning the skill in exchange of a monthly stipend. Things started to look up. Due to the relaxation in the lockdown rules the family has restarted their fish selling activities, as well.
Against all this background, sports remained an attraction, leaving only a question of how to continue. This time on, with the announcement of the Virtual Cricket Competition supported by ESPN, Mr Ramji and Mr Arun, the Coaches from Puducherry identified the siblings to be part of this event. While the skill training continued, an hour long, daily routine of physical fitness was added. The boys came under their supervision and began to re-focus on practising and enhancing cricket skills as required by the Competition Module.
Ramji and Arun, would pick up the Siblings from Satya and take them for their practises to a beach about 20 kms (approx. 12 miles) away from the centre, spending two hours in travelling and two hours of practising, everyday for a month preceding the day of competition. One day while practising, they were checked by a policeman for doing so during lockdown. The Coaches explained and requested special permission, and continued with the practises, following the Covid protocols strictly. The show carried on and Puducherry reached the second position in the Competition, upholding the worth and joy of sports despite the odds.
In the words of Coach Ramji, “Because of a lack of physical activity for students we earlier, decided to conduct online yoga and physical education sessions. We found that children enjoyed these sessions. When online cricket competition came about, I had reservations and did not know how we would make it happen. When we explained the idea to the parents of the Athletes, at first, they were confused. We demonstrated how the practice sessions would proceed online. Through constant conversations, the parents were reassured and we too got clear with how to proceed. The new normal of online classes went on without a hitch, while at the tail end of the practice sessions we decided to do home visits. Here, too we were stopped by the police but eventually, got the necessary travel passes. It all turned out to be a learning experience through the support of the Athletes, their families, the State authorities and the SO Bharat- Puducherry state chapter leadership”
“The athletes have shown remarkable interest, and their parents have co-operated sincerely. Although the progress was slow at first, the Athletes showed a lot of improvement. The Coaches Vivek and Raghuraj would motivate the athletes and help them correct the technique. We also trained parents to coach so they could help the athletes to practice at home”, says Coach Arun
Dr Ram Mohan, SO Bharat Puducherry , “I am extremely proud of Team Puducherry and want to extend a heartiest Congratulations to them. The event gravitated participation as the Skills were simple, included a motor component, easy to understand and accomplishable. The parents too, learnt and did the skill themselves and also enjoyed with the Athletes. It created an occasion for the family to do a meaningful activity together. We began with having to explain a lot to the parents to convince them. They hesitated initially –but then co-operated. Technology was a challenge at times, but its use and strength of being able to apply across different fields made this tournament unique and educational. We could do further research in this model to include more skills and more compelling elements in due course”